The extraordinary testimonies to Mary Co-redemptrix previously offered by the likes of St. Bernard, Arnold of Chartres, Pseudo-Albert, John Tauler, and Alphonsus Salmerón became the ordinary and “common opinion of theologians” (1) in the seventeenth century, which can legitimately be referred to as the “Golden Age of Marian Coredemption.”
In the 1600’s alone, references to the Immaculate Mother’s unique and active participation “with Jesus” in the Redemption number well over three hundred. Within these references are numerous explanations and defenses of the titles of Redemptrix and Co-redemptrix, coupled with learned theological defenses of the sound doctrine which the titles convey. (2)
So generous and penetrating is the theological treatment of the Mother Co-redemptrix throughout this Golden Age that its contribution lays the theological foundation for the systematic treatment of the doctrine in later centuries. Under the classic categories of Christian soteriology (theology of salvation) in which Our Lord’s Redemption is considered, that is, merit, satisfaction, sacrifice, and redemptive ransom, the Mother’s Coredemption is fundamentally treated under these categories by the theological minds and hearts of this age. (3) So many in number were they, we can offer only a sampling of the theological laud and love to Mary Co-redemptrix that this era provides. (4)
Of utmost importance to the story of Mary Co-redemptrix is its organic progression through this critical phase of the Church’s theological history, for the doctrine of Coredemption and its “theological foundations” are firmly embedded in Tradition, and will, in future centuries, receive their magisterial sanctions directly from the popes.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi († 1619), Franciscan Doctor of the Church, uses the concept of Mary’s “spiritual priesthood” (in a mode analogous to the priesthood of the laity as discussed at the Second Vatican Council) (5) to illustrate Mary’s participation in the Redemption in the category of sacrifice. Sacrifice soteriologically refers to Christ’s free immolation and offering of himself to the Eternal Father in a truly priestly action for humanity’s sins. Mary in her “spiritual priesthood,” as St. Lawrence explains, shares in the offering of the one redemptive sacrifice at Calvary with Jesus, the “Principal Priest”:
Did not Mary put her life in danger for us, when she stood by the cross of Christ truly sacrificing Him to God in spirit, as full, abundantly full of the spirit of Abraham, and offering Him in true charity for the salvation of the world? . . . The spirit of Mary was a spiritual priest, as the cross was the altar and Christ the sacrifice; although the spirit of Christ was the principal priest, the spirit of Mary was there together with the spirit of Christ; indeed it was one spirit with Him as one soul in two bodies. Hence the spirit of Mary together with the spirit of Christ performed the priestly office at the altar of the cross and offered the sacrifice of the cross for the salvation of the world to the Eternal God…. For of her, as of God to Whom she was most similar in spirit, we can truly say that she so loved the world as to give her only-begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but will have life eternal. (6)
Mary is not a “priest” in the formal sense, since she is not ordained, and therefore cannot offer a formal sacrifice. Rather, she possesses a spiritual priesthood true of all the baptized, but in the highest possible degree due to her singular dignity. In view of her fullness of grace and her coredemptive mission with the Redeemer, it is clear that her spiritual sacrifice in subordinate participation “with Jesus” the High Priest, exceeds in spiritual fruitfulness the sacrifice of any ministerial priest, excepting only her own Son. (7)
Another Doctor of the Church and revered counter-reformational cardinal and theologian, St. Robert Bellarmine († 1621), teaches the uniqueness of the Mother’s co-operation in his metaphor of spiritual creation: